This decision is wonderful news for Charlotte Center of Legal Advocacy and the people it serves as the ACA has helped make health care accessible to millions of uninsured Americans since 2010.
More than 31 million Americans rely on the ACA for affordable coverage that provides free preventive care, protection for pre-existing conditions and a ban on lifetime caps for insurance benefits, along with the peace of mind that comes with being insured.
Access to health care is essential for all people as efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic continue. This decision ensures that access without disrupting our healthcare system at a time when care is needed most.
For those who have coverage through the ACA, this decision does not change current plans. Those who are uninsured or interested in changing their health plan can still sign up for 2021 coverage through August 15 using the Special Open Enrollment Period. Financial assistance to pay for coverage is still available.
The Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s health insurance navigators provide free, unbiased assistance to anyone who needs help signing up for coverage or understanding their options. For more information, visit charlottelegaladvocacy.org/getcovered.
Responding to Crisis: Marking One Year of COVID-19
Last March, few imagined that our community would still be grappling with the coronavirus pandemic a year later.
In many ways it seems the pandemic is nearing an end after this year of hardship and loss: vaccines for the virus are increasingly available, and cases have dropped to a point where North Carolina is easing activity restrictions.
But we are only just beginning to understand the extent to which this virus has driven our neighbors to the margins of safety, economic security and family stability, laying bare the extreme inequities that have long existed in our community.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has spent the last year fighting for our community’s most vulnerable residents as COVID-19 upended daily life.
As we pass this milestone, we take stock of just how much we’ve fought to advance our mission of pursuing justice this past year.
It’s work we do every day and have always done in our 50+ years of service. But COVID-19 has cast a glaring spotlight on the importance of our mission.
Pursuing justice: It’s fairness under the law. It’s equal access. It’s meeting basic needs. And it’s making sure our neighbors are equipped to endure any crisis life throws their way, including a global pandemic.
Today and every day, we continue this hard, necessary work until our community is a stronger, more just and equitable place for ALL.
Over the past year we:
Addressed immediate issues related to agency closures in our local Department of Social Services (DSS), allowing for remote application for benefits and limiting terminations and state unemployment insurance systems to tackle issues stalling federal unemployment benefits.
Prevented illegal evictions and kept vulnerable populations safely housed.
Responded to critical needs for protective orders and intervention due to a sharp increase in domestic violence incidents while our courts were operating on a limited capacity.
Monitored the changes in Medicaid, food stamps and other assistance programs to ensure coverage is not disrupted for those who need them in our community.
Advocated for language and technological access on administrative applications for health, food and income benefits to ensure all who were entitled to assistance could receive it.
Assisted people who have lost their jobs and/or health insurance navigate Affordable Care Act health coverage options and Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs).
Ensured members of our community are not falling victim to COVID-19 related scams and losing their income.
Helped immigrant families understand the unique ways the pandemic impacts employment, housing, public resources, ICE activity and immigration courts.
Read on to learn more about the need for our services and our impact over the past year.
Meeting Exacerbated Needs
Days after the first cases were reported, we shifted to remote operations, equipping staff to continue our work as the need for help grew exponentially.
For our neighbors living on economic and health margins, the pandemic has further exacerbated their instability in extreme ways.
The need for our services before the pandemic:
More than two thirds of low-income households were experiencing at least one civil legal problem that significantly impacted daily life. These rates are much higher for survivors of domestic violence, immigrants, veterans, families, and parents of children with disabilities.
In Mecklenburg County, poverty, segregation, and income inequality have pushed residents to the sidelines, concentrating distress in family stability and fortifying barriers to economic opportunity.
Children born into poor families in Mecklenburg County are among the least likely in the U.S. to escape poverty.
Public agencies closed and delayed services just as newly unemployed individuals found themselves trying to piece together a semblance of stability navigating administrative and public benefits systems for the first time.
Those already depending on these systems (people with disabilities, children, seniors, veterans and their families) were desperate to prevent the illness, hunger and homelessness that could result from losing Medicaid, Food Stamps, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or other benefits.
The combined effects of racial, gender, ethnic, and other forms of bias create multiple barriers for people of color and women as they navigate institutions where entrenched disparities remain the status quo.
This clear intersectionality has yielded disproportionately negative impacts for people of color and women during the pandemic. Because of this reality, we have continued to identify and address systemic racism while fighting to ensure equal access to assistance.
When Mecklenburg County’s Department of Social Services (DSS) closed its offices to the public on March 18 with little notice, we fought to make sure our neighbors could still get benefits and services guaranteed to them under the law.
We made DSS agree to:
honor the date of phone calls as date of application for applicants to ensure they receive the maximum amounts of benefits allowed;
not terminate benefits for missed deadlines; and
allow late appeals, and to post clear signage in front of their buildings outlining this information.
The closure sent applicants to the agency’s call center which meant longer wait times for help.
We made sure people understood their eligibility for public benefits, helped them apply and navigate confusing administrative systems, all while ensuring their rights were protected. When programs and services changed, we kept the community informed.
We continue to advocate for extensions and flexibilities that are favorable to beneficiaries, while serving as a watchdog to ensure those policies are appropriately enforced and accessible to applicants of all backgrounds.
‘Things are smoother now.’
Like many of our neighbors, Melody was already struggling when COVID-19 turned her life upside down. We assisted her with various legal needs last year. Recently, we checked in to see how things are going for her and her family one year into the pandemic.
When someone contacts Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy for help, they are often struggling to stay afloat in a storm of crisis.
They have a big problem impacting their life but do not know how to fix it. Their problem is a symptom of various unmet legal needs that need to be addressed comprehensively to put that person on a better path.
As the primary financial support and caregiver for her family, she was trying to keep up with medical bills and fighting to keep her home as she faced foreclosure for unpaid property taxes from the mid-2000s left over from her parents’ estate.
The Advocacy Center had helped her negotiate a payment plan with the county that included forgiveness of a substantial portion of the debt.
“When the pandemic hit, I lost my job,” Melody says. “I was devastated. I thought, ‘How am I going to make those payments?’”
Melody is used to being the one helping others. But when it came to piecing together the support her family needed to remain stable, she could not do it alone.
Again, she called the Advocacy Center. We connected her with Legal Aid of North Carolina-Charlotte to help her get expanded unemployment benefits under the CARES Act to support her family.
“I’ve worked all my life and never needed any benefits,” Melody says. “I didn’t really know how that stuff went.”
As part of our work, we learned that Melody’s sister, Wendy’s social security benefits had been terminated despite her disability. The Advocacy Center stepped back in to ensure she was receiving the benefits she was entitled to.
We also helped Wendy apply for food stamps to help their family through this crisis. Melody would soon turn 65, so we also ensured everything was prepared for her to receive Medicare in a few short months.
We checked in with Melody recently to see how things are going for her and her family one year into the pandemic.
It’s been hard.
She’s lost eight family members to COVID-19. In addition to not being able to physically mourn with her loved ones, she’s missed the big family get togethers held every year—egg hunts at Easter and a family reunion in September.
Melody says one thing she’s learned through her experience is “it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to not be okay.”
She compares the past year to sailing through a storm and credits the staff at the Advocacy Center for guiding her to calmer waters.
“Just knowing I had them there, I was able to stay in my boat,” she says. “Things are smoother now.”
Despite the past year, she says she is still looking for the silver lining in everything.
She hopes to return to her job whipping up the daily special at Showmars in the City of Charlotte Government Center, where she had worked for 22 years. And she dreams of one day owning her own food truck.
In the meantime, she’s glad to have her health, her family cared for and a place to call if she needs help.
She smiles every time she drives by the Advocacy Center and Legal Aid office on Elizabeth Avenue.
“Look at how much work the people in that teeny little building do!” Melody says. “The work they do, it’s needed. Because sometimes people just need a helping hand. It’s been a blessing.”
Melody, we’re glad we could help. Call us if you need anything.
Before the pandemic, about 12 percent of Mecklenburg residents, including children, were considered food insecure according to Feeding America. The ongoing economic fallout has swollen that number to almost 16 percent who are on the brink of hunger.
In the last year, our staff assisted 371 people and their families with issues accessing food stamps (SNAP benefits), making sure they could successfully get the assistance they needed to remain stable and understood their eligibility for SNAP and other public benefits.
North Carolina was among the earliest adopters of Pandemic EBT (PEBT), which provides food support for families with children eligible for free or reduced-price meals while schools were closed. Though N.C. took many positive steps in creating this program, there have been hurdles and confusion in the implementation. We have been working closely with clients, partner organizations, and the state to monitor issues on the ground and communicate them to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to ensure the program works efficiently and families receive these critical benefits quickly.
Before the pandemic, one in six Americans had a civil legal problem that negatively impacted their health. We knew that unmet legal needs related to COVID-19 would dramatically worsen health outcomes.
Thirteen percent of Mecklenburg residents don’t have health coverage. More than 500,000 low-income people in N.C. have no options to get health care because they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to receive financial assistance for health insurance.
COVID-19 forced frontline workers to weigh the risks of working to keep their families stable with the chance of falling critically ill and needing to seek medical care they couldn’t afford. Others lost health insurance benefits with their jobs at a time when access to health care mattered most.
Many who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 did not realize they had the option to apply for health care coverage through a Healthcare Insurance Marketplace Special Enrollment Period (SEP) 60 days after losing coverage. Consequently, many went without it due to their inability to afford private insurance.
Johanna Parra, coordinator of the Advocacy Center’s Health Insurance Navigator Project, was among the first in the nation to discover another option for those who were desperate to get coverage and have peace of mind knowing they could get care if they needed it.
Because all 50 states were under the COVID-19 pandemic national emergency declaration, eligible individuals could apply for coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace, also referred to as “Obamacare,” for a Special Enrollment Period through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA SEP).
Fighting for Equal Access
As soon as Congress passed the CARES Act to provide economic support and COVID-19 relief, there was confusion around the benefits included in the package.
Understanding the CARES Act and COVID Relief: Stimulus Payments and Unemployment Benefits
Families desperate for financial support needed help making sure they received stimulus checks (Economic Impact Payments) issued by the federal government.
Who was eligible? How would payments be distributed? What if payments didn’t arrive?
We answered these questions and more for our clients and the community to ensure everyone eligible for a payment could receive it.
Staff are now helping people address missing stimulus checks and other issues related to the CARES Act as people try to prepare their 2020 tax returns at a time when collection activities and massive job losses strain taxpayers. We are working to resolve these issues and push the IRS to offer specific remedies for various issues related to stimulus checks.
We are also working closely with clients and partner organizations to ensure the latest COVID-19 stimulus opportunities from the American Rescue Plan are understood and correctly received.
By May of last year, more than one million North Carolinians had applied for unemployment insurance benefits. The volume of applications paired with implementing new assistance programs under the federal CARES Act has caused significant delays, making the process more challenging for applicants.
Working together, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and Legal Aid of North Carolina-Charlotte answered the calls of thousands of frustrated workers to guide them through the application process and appeals. Through direct action and systemic advocacy, these organizations ensured that those who had fallen through the cracks had access to the full payments they deserved.
Prior to the pandemic and historically, North Carolina’s unemployment system made it difficult for eligible residents to receive unemployment benefits, leaving workers with little to no support.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is focused on removing some of these barriers by focusing on unemployment insurance system reform, essential worker benefits, living wages, and promoting workers’ rights in a right to work state—all of which disproportionately impact People of Color (POC).
We are also monitoring how scams and multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs) target unemployed and low-income individuals, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.
NC Extra Credit Grant
Quick action and a strong partnership generated 24,946 applications submitted; $8 million distributed, in just 18 days.
On September 4, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the Extra Credit Grant: an additional $335 dollars in COVID-19 relief for N.C parents. While middle and high-income families automatically received the payment, low-income families had to apply through the North Carolina Department of Revenue (NCDOR).
These families had just 29 days to learn about the program and apply. Only 10,000 families did so during the initial application period.
Through a pro bono partnership, Legal Aid of North Carolina, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, and Robinson Bradshaw filed a complaint resulting in a court order on Nov.5, 2020 that reopened and extended the application period.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy created a website and extensive communication campaign entitled 335 for NC, which encouraged these parents to apply for the grant through December 7, 2020. More than 32,000 individuals visited the website.
In just 18 days, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Legal Aid of North Carolina, and Robinson Bradshaw reached hundreds of thousands of families and delivered 24,946 applications to NCDOR resulting in more than $8 million in aid made available to families who needed it most.
Keeping Families Safe and Protected from Exploitation
State and federal moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures have been implemented and continued over the past year to keep people who couldn’t pay their bills safely housed during the pandemic, but they haven’t been enough to protect everyone.
As we watched infection rates rise, courts in North Carolina started working through backlogged foreclosures. Evictions began ramping up, exacerbating the shortage of affordable housing that existed well before the threat of coronavirus. Homeowners who had to take advantage of forbearance because they could not pay their mortgages will eventually have to repay extraordinary balances on their home loans, many of which cannot be modified.
The Advocacy Center continues to work with families desperate to keep their homes and stay current on their bills to avoid homelessness and financial ruin. We are making sure people understand their rights and obligations with lenders to help them make informed decisions about their situations. We are also educating the community to make sure our neighbors do not fall victim to scams related to COVID-19.
‘The weight that was lifted off’
Entrepreneur, grandmother, personal shopper, caregiver, and church activist. These are a few of the hats that Mrs. C wears on any given week. She keeps copious amounts of to-do lists to keep herself, her family, and her business in order, a skill she says she learned from the staff at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.
“I kept their organizational skills, detail-oriented skills and people skills. It was a great learning experience.”
Mrs. C sought Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s assistance when a predatory mortgage company threatened to foreclose on her and her husband’s home.
“Raising grandkids, things got tight, but I also felt like I got hoodwinked into this mortgage. I had an anxiety attack.”
Mrs. C quickly connected with our Consumer Protection Unit which soon found out her mortgage company was fraudulent and under federal investigation. The Advocacy Center resolved Mrs. C’s issue and her family was able to keep her home.
“I cannot tell you the weight that was lifted off me when Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy jumped in like that and helped me right off the bat. It was a godsend. They worked with me on everything.”
Without the burden of potential foreclosure, Mrs. C can focus on growing her business and fostering her family:
“It’s peaceful now. I’m able to move forward. If only you could see the smile on my face! It’s a peaceful, peaceful smile.”
Immigrant families were already targets for exploitation before the pandemic. Fear of deportation, language barriers, and lack of traditional financial resources make it harder for immigrants to get assistance and leave them vulnerable.
Owners of substandard housing often rent to immigrants because the owners believe those tenants will be afraid to exercise their rights to habitable housing and to continued tenancy.
Traditional financing options are also often unavailable to immigrant families, which makes them easy targets for predatory financing options such as contracts for deed, options to purchase, installment sales contracts or lease with option contracts. These are enforced through eviction procedures and are complicated to defend without legal assistance.
Immigrants are also targeted for predatory sales of mobile homes, which can be substandard. These situations often involve predatory financing methods on land that is rented and are subject to eviction from the land, also requiring complicated defense.
The pandemic hit immigrants especially hard. Primary earners lost jobs as businesses shut down and those without legal status didn’t qualify for COVID-19 assistance.
“Because of the virus we lost our jobs and that put us behind on rent. And now it’s worse because my husband had an accident and our court date is tomorrow so we don’t know what we’re going to do … We don’t get help from anyone, those of us who are undocumented. A lot of us are going through this.”
– Advocacy Center client Ismar spoke to WFAE as her family faced eviction in July. Attorney Juan Hernandez was able to negotiate an agreement with the family’s landlord to prevent them from losing their home. Listen to the full story.
Thinking they could take advantage of families in desperate situations, landlords continued to threaten and illegally remove families from their homes.
At a time when our court system was operating on a limited capacity and resources for assistance were scarce, we helped our clients avoid homelessness, remain stable and exercise their rights.
We upheld their rights through our work, which included remedies such as cancellation of the contract, recovery of down payment or money paid above and beyond the fair market rental value, damages for unfair and deceptive trade practices, among others. We also conducted community education programs regarding the rights of immigrant renters related to their housing.
Domestic Violence Protection
While officials urged people to stay home to prevent spreading the virus, home wasn’t the safest option for many in our community.
Immigrant women also face additional barriers to escaping domestic violence or abuse, leaving them feeling trapped in abusive situations.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy helps low-income immigrants living in Mecklenburg County who are victims of domestic violence. A recent Allstate Foundation national survey found that 64 percent of Hispanic women say they know a victim of some type of abuse and 30 percent have personally been victimized.
Reports of domestic violence incidents increased significantly along with the need for legal assistance to get necessary protection early in the pandemic as people. Advocacy Center staff helped survivors and their families navigate administrative changes to get the protections they needed while our courts were closed.
Our Response Continues
We are all weathering the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat.
The past year has made it clear just how critical access to safety, security and stability is for everyone in our community.
But barriers that prevent equal access to these needs persist. And our current safety net is simply not wide or strong enough to support everyone who needs it.
Much like the Great Recession of 2008, the recovery for those hit hardest by COVID-19, those we serve, will take years. Some will never recover.
The need is everywhere. That’s why we’re here, fighting to help families not only stay afloat but also thrive. And we’re not going anywhere.
Today and every day, we continue this hard, necessary work until our community is a stronger, more just and equitable place for ALL.
Living in Fear: Report Documents the Harm Inflicted on Immigrant Families, Children in Charlotte Area, Carolinas
Every day, immigrant families live in fear of separation and suffer from chronic stress while struggling to build a stable life in a community that keeps them on the fringes.
These are the findings of a recent report documenting the harm of the Trump administration’s deliberate attacks on immigrants living in the Carolinas and across the U.S.
In collaboration with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and South Carolina Appleseed, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) has released its findings based on interviews with a range of professionals serving the immigrant community—including childcare providers, nursing home visitors, health and mental health care providers, health insurance navigators, nutrition assistance providers, and legal service providers.
“The Trump Administration has repeatedly shown indifference to the effects of its policies and rhetoric on children across the country and in some cases is deliberately using harm to immigrant children as a political lever,” said Madison Allen, co-author of the Carolinas report and senior policy analyst/attorney at CLASP. “We found that parents are altering their daily lives and avoiding public health, nutrition, and education programs because of these relentless attacks. We heard stories about parents being detained in front of their children, kids who are afraid to go outside and play, and chronic stress that will have long-term consequences for many children.”
Charlotte’s foreign-born population makes up 10 percent of the total population, with most individuals coming from Latin America (50 percent) and Asia (31 percent). This population has grown significantly over the past 10 years.
With one in four children having at least one immigrant parent, the report illustrates the deliberate detrimental impact this administration’s rhetoric and policies are having on children and, by extension, our greater community.
Through interviews conducted between January and March 2020 in the Charlotte metro and Columbia, S.C. areas, recurring themes echoed the harmful and deep impacts families experience because of the Trump administration’s harmful rhetoric and zero-tolerance enforcement tactics.
Interviewees shared stories of how the constant, looming fear of immigration enforcement dramatically impacts daily life for immigrant parents and children in their communities.
Parents and caregivers are afraid to leave their homes to work or take care of everyday necessities out of fear that they will not return home to their families. That fear is not limited to adults either. Children of all ages are also experiencing and internalizing chronic stress and anxiety that impacts their health and wellbeing in ways that will linger for years.
Providers shared concerns about the children who are living at homes with chronic ongoing stress and what that means for their future. As a nurse practitioner explained, “the increase in cortisol and the inflammatory markers that go along with stress precipitates a lot of chronic disease.”
Families are also avoiding publicly funded health and nutrition services for which they are eligible specifically due to the administration’s new Public Charge rule. The rule, which went into effect Feb. 24, expands the types of benefits considered in the “public charge” immigration test administered to immigrants entering the country or seeking permanent residency to determine if they will become primarily dependent on the government for financial support.
The rule has faced several court challenges since going into effect with decisions just in the last month that have put it on hold and then resumed it again, adding to confusion about what options families have.
Immigrants without legal status do not qualify for most public benefits. Most immigrants with status who do qualify for public benefits along with all U.S. citizen family members are not subject to the rule. Also, several types of public benefits are not included in the assessment, such as WIC, NC Health Choice and Emergency Medicaid. This hasn’t stopped families from withdrawing from stabilizing programs out of fear.
In the report, Advocacy Center staff shared several stories of families choosing not to enroll in benefits.
One story involved a woman from Mexico who had been a U.S. citizen for 20 years. During a meeting to enroll in health coverage, a health insurance navigator shared that the woman was eligible to sign up for food stamps (SNAP benefits) based on her income. The woman declined “… because of the public charge, she thought it applied to her … and she was just really scared.”
Medical-Legal Partnership coordinator Elizabeth Setaro has been leading the Advocacy Center’s efforts to help families fight fear with facts.
“Through education and outreach, we are making sure families understand what they’re entitled to receive and have access to the necessary resources that ensure they remain stable during these uncertain times,” Setaro said.
On top of policy threats at the federal level, immigrant families in the Carolinas face added barriers when accessing safety net programs like Medicaid due to shortcomings in the state eligibility software and training for social services staff. These systems are difficult for most people to effectively navigate without assistance, especially when English is a second language.
CLASP’s research found that conditions for immigrant children and their families in the Carolinas were exacerbated by confusion, misinformation and limited availability of legal services, specifically in South Carolina.
In the Charlotte region, the Advocacy Center is the largest provider of free and low-cost legal services for immigrant families, but additional options for legal assistance are limited beyond hiring a private attorney.
Private immigration attorneys are often not well versed on immigrant eligibility for public benefits, which also adds to confusion and uncertainty.
The Advocacy Center fights to ensure equal access to resources under the law for immigrant families. That includes working with service providers and the immigrant community to help families understand and access local resources that are available, while also holding administrative and government systems accountable to provide services families are entitled to receive.
The report’s findings illustrate the need for policies that equitably ensure safety, economic security and stability for all families, including immigrants.
Such policies would enable all people to live their lives as productive citizens engaging in civic and economic life without fear and build a strong community that allows families to thrive.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is celebrating another year of strong health insurance enrollment after the seventh open enrollment period for health coverage through Federal Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
As a member of the N.C. Navigator Consortium, the Advocacy Center’s Health Insurance Navigator Project helped North Carolina have the third highest number of enrollments behind Florida and Texas for states on the federal exchange. During this year’s enrollment period, 505,275 individuals signed up for 2020 Marketplace Coverage–almost 3,000 more than last year’s enrollment period.
This year’s enrollment period, which typically lasts Nov. 1 through Dec. 15, was extended to 3 a.m. Dec. 18 to accommodate website issues for consumers trying to enroll on the final day.
During that period, the Advocacy Center assisted more than
1,400 residents, helping them understand their coverage options and select
plans that best fit their needs and budget for 2020.
“Our team did an incredible job in just 45 days,” said Julieanne Taylor, coordinator for the Health Insurance Navigator Project.
The Advocacy Center was able to host more than 150 additional appointments this year thanks to the support of 18 volunteers from the Charlotte Triage Pro Bono Partnership and the community.
Volunteers hosted 66 appointments during enrollment events on Wednesday evenings and Saturdays during the six-week period. Volunteers also made more than 500 calls to help consumers schedule appointments.
“Our volunteers helped us serve more consumers on a tight timeline,” Taylor said. “They were all so helpful and jumped in to support us wherever they could.”
The 2020 enrollment period may be over, but navigators are now assisting individuals who qualify to select coverage during Special Enrollment Periods. Anyone who has experienced a major life event such as getting married, moving, changes in income, welcoming a new family member, or loss of coverage can call 1-855-733-3711 or visit ncnavigator.net to get free help to understand their coverage options.
Navigators are located at sites across Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Union counties all year to help consumers understand their coverage options.
Advocacy Center navigators will also be stationed at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites through tax season to help consumers reconcile any financial assistance they receive for health coverage in preparing their taxes.
ACA Open Enrollment Is Here
To schedule a free in-person appointment, individuals can call the statewide navigator hotline, 1-855-733-3711 or go to ncnavigator.net.
The Open Enrollment Period for 2020 health insurance coverage started Nov. 1 and runs through Dec. 15, giving consumers 45 days to enroll in health coverage from the Federal Health Insurance Marketplace.
Despite confusion around the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the ACA and its protections remain the law: financial assistance is still available to eligible consumers; individuals cannot be denied coverage or charged more due to a pre-existing condition, such as cancer or diabetes, among others.
Last year, more than 90 percent of North Carolinians who enrolled in Marketplace coverage were eligible for financial assistance, which can lower monthly premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. .
Mecklenburg County also had the highest number of enrollments in the state in with 60,229 residents signing up for 2019 coverage. Of those who enrolled, 53,878 residents received financial assistance; 16,655 enrolled for Marketplace coverage for the first time.
As a member of the N.C. Navigator Consortium, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s team of health insurance navigators are available to help consumers understand their health insurance options through both the Health Insurance Marketplace and Medicaid.
Navigators are federally certified and required to provide objective, non-biased information about all healthcare options available. Navigators from the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy will be assisting consumers at different community locations in Cabarrus, Mecklenburg and Union counties during open enrollment.
Open Enrollment Navigator Sites
Beatties Ford Road Library
Cabarrus Health Alliance
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy
CMC Myers Park
El Puente Hispano
Latin American Coalition
Mecklenburg County Health Department
New Beginnings Church
Union County Human Services
West Boulevard Library
The Advocacy Center will also host enrollment events every Wednesday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. and every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy satellite office located at 1524 Elizabeth Avenue, in Charlotte. On Saturdays, walk-ins are welcome until 3 p.m.
A final enrollment event will be held Sunday, Dec. 15, noon to 8 p.m. at 1524 Elizabeth Avenue in Charlotte.
To schedule a free in-person appointment, individuals can call the statewide navigator hotline, 1-855-733-3711 or go to ncnavigator.net.
All consumers – new and renewing – are encouraged to return to the Marketplace during Open Enrollment to explore their options and enroll in health coverage. For individuals renewing coverage, it is important to review application information and 2020 plan options because plans and prices change every year.
What are the
By signing up for health insurance, consumers may receive free preventive care, which includes
The ACA has made insurance more accessible and affordable to consumers, and consumers can find quality, affordable plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace. If you can afford health insurance but choose not to buy it, you may face high out of pocket costs if you have a medical emergency or need to visit a doctor.
To qualify for financial assistance through the Health
Insurance Marketplace, individuals must meet the following requirements:
Have household income between 100% and 400% of
the Federal Poverty Level. Certain immigrants are eligible even if income is
below the poverty line.
Be a U.S. citizen or lawfully present immigrant.
This includes green card holders, refugees, asylees, U visa holders, work and
student visa holders, TPS, among others.
Not eligible for affordable employer-based
coverage, Medicaid, or Medicare.
Special Enrollment Periods
After December 15, some individuals may be eligible to
enroll for coverage through a Special Enrollment Period. Special Enrollment
Periods are available for individuals who recently experienced a major life change,
such as a permanent move, the birth of a child, or a newly obtained immigration
status. If you qualify, then you may enroll in Marketplace coverage within 60
days of the change. It is important to note that you can also enroll for
coverage under Medicaid and CHIP all year long.
If you have questions about your health coverage options, navigators are available the entire year to assist consumers understand their options, enroll in Marketplace or Medicaid coverage, report changes to the Marketplace, understand their medical bill, and assist with Marketplace appeals.
To contact a Navigator to schedule a free, in-person appointment, consumers can call to 1-855-733-3711 or go online to ncnavigator.net.
Emma Merritt is
an associate at Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP and a dedicated pro bono volunteer
with Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy through the Access to Justice Pro Bono
Having done pro
bono work since she became an attorney, Merritt brought her commitment to
service to the Charlotte community. She took her first pro bono case in January
“It is crucial
for those of us with the ability to help to do so,” Merritt says. “I am
grateful that my law firm strongly values pro bono work as well.”
routinely handles appeals cases for denials of Medicaid for the Disabled (MAD)
and Social Security Disability benefits (SSD). She recalls one case where she
assisted a young woman with a debilitating mental illness. Merritt successfully
appealed the denial of her Social Security Disability benefits, enabling her to
continue to pay for her medical and living expenses.
Not only does
Merritt value her pro bono work as a continuous learning opportunity, tackling
all kinds of difficult cases, she enjoys getting to know her individual pro
bono clients” and helping them obtain favorable outcomes.
“It is incredibly rewarding to know that I have made a real difference in a person’s life by helping him or her through a difficult situation,” Merritt says.
commitment to pro bono service, especially with civil legal issues involving healthcare
access, has compelled her to encourage others to volunteer with Charlotte
Center for Legal Advocacy through the Charlotte Pro Bono Triage Partnership.
is a partnership of corporate and private practice lawyers volunteering to
support the area’s two legal service organizations, Charlotte Center for Legal
Advocacy and Legal Aid of North Carolina, in their legal work to serve more
people in need of legal assistance.
Merrit is beginning
her second year serving as a Healthcare Champion through Charlotte Triage,
where she recruits, organizes, and trains volunteers to assist Charlotte
residents in need of help understanding affordable healthcare options with the
Advocacy Center’s Health Insurance Navigator Project.
As part of this
work, Merritt has completed training to be a Certified Health Insurance
Navigator, and she will serve as an Open Enrollment Volunteer Nov. 1 through
Dec. 15, with dozens of other volunteers in the community to ensure those who
can be insured under the Affordable Care Act, have access to assistance that
helps them make informed decisions about health coverage.
“Emma is enthusiastic about her role and always willing to
provide her time and resources,” says Julieanne Taylor, attorney and health
insurance navigator coordinator at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy. “Last
year, Emma was a superstar on the last day of Open Enrollment and stayed with
us until the very end. The Navigator Project is so lucky to have Emma on our
Thank-you Emma Merritt for your commitment to pro bono work on behalf of Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy!
Hospitals Must Post Prices Online for Standard Services
CHARLOTTE, NC – It’s now easier to estimate what your hospital bill might add up to. Since the start of the new year, a federal rule requires all hospitals to post prices for procedures online. That doesn’t include what health insurance covers.
Healthcare.gov Knocked For Glitches, Inaccurate Info By Advocacy Group
If you’re shopping for an insurance plan on healthcare.gov, the online marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act, there’s an important feature that doesn’t always work, an advocacy group says. It sometimes gives misinformation about which doctors are in the network for each plan.